23 The Ups and Downs of the Camino

Rabanal Del Camino marks the end of the Meseta and the beginning of some serious mountains in the North-West of the country.  My walk today will take me to the famed Iron Cross, and then to the highest point of the Camino.

While I’m at it I should probably describe some of the elevation changes. An uphill ascent is often complicated by the type of path you are walking on. You will encounter pavement, crushed stone, rock strewn, boulder strewn, dirt, and/or a combination of any of the above. You can’t tell when a perfectly good path will turn to one of the worst you could imagine. In my case the boulder strewn path is the absolute worst…..but that’s just my opinion.

A downhill descent is made even worse by the conditions you will be presented with.

Thinking back when I Left St. Jean Pied de Port in France (day 1) the elevation is180m (590 ft) above sea level. My first stop of the day was to Orisson…and this is only 1095m (3,285 ft). So the first day you climb an elevation of 915m (2,695 ft). Not to be too dramatic….bit this will pale by comparison the following day.

To climb over the top of the Pyrenees is will be necessary to climb another 515 m or 1,545 ft to get over the top at Col Lepoeder (1430m or 4290 ft) From my perspective this is a serious climb, especially if you haven’t trained appropriately.

Ascents are an unequal half of this walk. It is the descents responsible for claiming more pilgrim victoms than by any other cause I suspect. Footing on the decent is paramount. A missed step is something of a concern on the downhill. You’ll know of course roughly 5 minutes on your downhill how much power your legs will be required to handle your weight, and the weight of you fully loaded backpack, including a 2 litre water bladder.

Your legs will become rubbery and your feet hard to lift. A perfect combination for a fall. Finally the environmental factor. When it rains, multiply the difficulty factor by 3….. very difficult. The views, as long as the sky is clear when you are at the top are exceptional.

This morning I started at Rabanal Del Camino with an altitude of 1160m  (3,480 ft) and will start climbing as soon as we leave the town the path goes up, and quite severely at times. The temperature is cold. My breath reminds me of the giant plumes from a steam engine. Immediately my glasses are fogged from my breath. I am so happy to have my fleecy and gloves. I am doubly pleased with myself as I actually purchased a hat in a small shop yesterday….all of this makes the morning chill seem manageable.

There are two peaks today. The first is where the Iron Cross is located. This is a significant stop for many people. The tradition being you leave a stone or something to symbolize your shedding of something unwanted in your life. A telephone pole projects out of an impressive mount of rubble. This mound is roughly 50’ in diameter and is about 25’ tall.

I can’t say this stop was as significant to me on this trip somehow…..but still I felt compelled to leave the items I had brought with me.

After leaving this peak the Way goes downhill for quite a while (maybe 20 minutes) and then turns ubruptly uphill once again. We are now heading to the highest peak on the Camino. When you crest the peak the views are simply fabulous. The town of Molinaseca is far below, mountains surrounding everything. There appears to be a forest fire on one of the mountain ranges, and the smoke plume is impressive as it hangs over the valley below.

The peak is called Alto Altar and is listed at 1515m (4,545 ft) above sea level.

Then the trail leads down abruptly and is my favorite. Large rubble.

Multiple stumbles, and several trips later I make it to my destination today. The small town of Acebo and I decide to check into a new Albergue called La Casa del Peregrino. This place is amazing! There is the feeling of a high class restaurant, complete with a full set of glasses, silverware, a charger and cloth tablecloth and napkin. The cost for the room 10 Euro.

I have decided to cut a couple of kilometers to try and get my back rested for tomorrow.

Oh yeah….here are the list of injuries or hurts…

Back…getting much better.

Left ankle….much better

Left hip….hurting after a stumble.

Toes…. may be losing 3 toenails (looking at the cause)

Right Knee….manageable with the support.

Tomorrow should be a good day…